Meet the Kent Life 2012 Amateur Gardener of the Year

PUBLISHED: 00:24 20 September 2012 | UPDATED: 21:53 20 February 2013

Meet the Kent Life 2012 Amateur Gardener of the Year

Meet the Kent Life 2012 Amateur Gardener of the Year

Elizabeth Cairns of Knowle Hill Farm in Ulcombe edged the competition to win the prestigious adult winner's title in Kent Life's annual garden awards

Kent Life Amateur Garden of the Year


Elizabeth Cairns glorious garden, with its well thought-out planting schemes to cope with an exposed site, is the highly deserving winner of our 2012 Kent Life Amateur Garden of the Year


This year we had a particularly close field of wonderful gardens and passionate owners. Knowle Hill Farm in Ulcombe, home to Elizabeth and Andrew Cairns for 30 years, edged the competition with its consistent attention to detail in plant selection and Elizabeths knowledgeable, enthusiastic personal connection to her creation.


Set on a slope with superb views overlooking the Weald of Kent, with light, sandy soil and facing south west, the location brings with it some challenges.


The focus of the garden is the view but a view, as Russell Page remarked in The Education of a Gardener, usually means wind, and a windy garden is unrewarding, says Elizabeth.


We have done our best to reduce the impact of the south-westerly winds by planting a shelter belt on the western boundary and gradually building up a framework of wind-tolerant shrubs and trees while preserving the view.


For us the enterprise has been far from unrewarding, though it is not perfect and we are constantly dreaming up new projects to improve it. Occasionally the wind blows hard through the garden but with far less devastating effects than before.


From the wonderful ribbon plantings of lavender, potentilla, heuchera, box and roses by the gravel drive, you enter through an arched hedge into a lush 1.5 acre garden of verdant lawn edged with densely planted borders and glimpses to hidden areas beyond at the top of the slope.


We have followed Paiges advice in not allowing any planting to distract from the view, which is seen from the broad sweep of grass which falls away, following the natural contours in front of the house, to a boundary of ancient box. Over the years this has formed a sculptural, billowing shape long before cloud pruning became fashionable, adds Elizabeth.


Topiary adds punctuation in themed borders of mixed herbaceous planting, including yellow and blue combinations, there is a small white paved garden with a rill and pool, roses scent the air, a wildflower meadow, many unusual that plants draw the eye and by the house Mediterranean choices flourish in beds and containers.


A flight of steps leads to the top of the garden, the only level section, with long borders and a yew hedge encircling a statue as a focal point. Even here there are glimpses of the panorama below.


A seat within a yew arbour gives a distant vista of the Weald for those with time to sit for a moment. We ourselves seldom do so as there is always something to do. But we would not have it otherwise, says Elizabeth.


Comment: Head judge Roger Platts


The planting schemes are very well thought out with a good overall structure and excellent colour combinations. The design suits the site and house very well, the balance and scale works well and the slope is used successfully.


There are lots of places to sit and enjoy the amazing view and other areas where you feel sheltered and surrounded by generous planting. Plant quality, bearing in mind the whole spectrum, is excellent.


One area to the side of the house is being redeveloped and the new planting scheme is not yet in place. It sums up the attention to detail when it comes to planting that the delay in completing this area is due to the fact that Elizabeth is trying a few plants as an experiment to gauge the conditions before making her final choices.



Get in touch


Knowle Hill Farm, Ulcombe ME17 1ES


Opens a couple of days each summer for the National Gardens Scheme


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